CTSI Annual Pilot Awards to Improve the Conduct of Research

An Open Proposal Opportunity

Data Management for Research Community

Proposal Status: 


CTSI’s Consultation Services Data Management Unit (DMU) is just one of the successful research resources available on campus to help UCSF faculty and staff with his/her research.  Along with many other data management services, the DMU also provides consultation in data processing to help transform research data into a statistically analyzable format.  In our efforts to provide consultation to the UCSF research community, we have realized that some trainees and faculty do not have the programming skills or resources to perform data processing tasks that are necessary to keep their research moving forward.  Complicated data merges and transformations require specific programming expertise to ensure that it is performed correctly.  Data management programmers, who can devote more time and effort to small projects, are needed.  The DMU’s ability to provide these services is very limited.  As a result, we have identified a gap in services that the Data Management Unit is currently able to provide.   

All research requires some level of data management programming.  This expertise exists far and wide across campus. Regrettably, there is not an easy way to identify these experts.  Our goal is to form a community of data managers on campus.  The purpose of this community would be to 1.) identify specific data management programming expertise across campus, 2.) pool resources by sharing job descriptions, computer programs, workflow processes and standard operating procedures, and 3.) identify data managers who are able to provide services on a short-term, variable-effort basis.     

Data management programming is an integral step in preparing research results. Expanding access to data management services that include programming will greatly impact the efficiency, accuracy, and productivity of research at UCSF.  By leaving complicated programming tasks to the experts, researchers will be able to spend more time writing grants and developing manuscripts.


Most data managers on campus are in the Analyst, Programmer Analyst or Biostatistician job title category.   With the help of UCSF’s Operational Excellence Human Resources group we would first survey all UCSF staff within these job classifications to find data manager and biostatistical programmers who would fit well into our Data Management for Research Community.   The two main inclusion criteria would include those with 1) data management/programming expertise and 2) who work in a research environment.  Those who fit the criteria will be invited to join the Data Management for Research Community.  Membership would provide access to data management resources and a subscription to a quarterly Data Management for Research Community newsletter.  In return, we would require that each person fill out a brief Data Management questionnaire to help identify his/her data management expertise as well as a follow-up questionnaire to assess satisfaction with becoming a member.  Specifically, the Data Management questionnaire would ask questions regarding the programmers area of research and UCSF department, level of experience in working with large national databases, clinical trials, observational studies, cross-sectional studies, etc., and level of expertise in various data management and statistical programs, including SQL, VisualBasic, FoxPro, MSAccess, SAS, Stata, SPSS, excel, etc.  We would also ask questions regarding his/her preference for different levels of engagement, such as, email, conference call and/or in person meetings.  Through this process we hope to create a network of managers/programmers who are able to work with the DMU, an inventory of data management resources, and opportunities for providing data management services on a short-term, variable-effort basis to those who need it.    

Total Budget: $25,343  

A 20% Analyst I for 12 months will be needed to survey staff, set up the questionnaire in RedCap and compile/store inventory of resources.  A 5% Programmer Analyst for 12 months will provide content to the newsletter and design the questionnaires. 

Criteria and Metrics of Success:  Number of data management programmers identified, overall response rate, rate of membership enrollment, inventory of data management resources, number of data managers who are able to provide services and satisfaction with membership.


Janet Coffman, MA, MPP, PhD and CELDAC,
Laura Bettencourt and the San Francisco Coordinating Center

Joe Hesse, Department of Neurology



This project would help to address a need at UCSF that existing CTSI initiatives are not fully meeting. For example, the Comparative Effectiveness Large Dataset Analysis Core is a good resource for identifying large, secondary data sets but has only limited resources to help faculty and trainees manage and analyze these data sets. CTSI has made great strides in helping faculty and trainees identify faculty with common interests but could do more to help them find staff with expertise in data management. Creating a network of data managers/programmers could help to link faculty and trainees to staff who could work with them on their projects. Such a network might also help UCSF retain talented data managers/programmers by helping them to find opportunities to continue to work at UCSF if they lose their funding. Retention is especially important for data/managers programmers with expertise in complex types of data sets, such as health insurance claims.

I would love to see this expanded to include a monthly in person meeting for research data management similar to the IT monthly meetings for computer support coordinators. I would think an analyst with 5%-10% effort could do a really good job of establishing this.

Great idea. This will be especially useful for young/junior investigators to find help! Go for it! J

This is a very innovative, practical idea that will have a significant impact on improving the ease and accuracy of clinical research. Developing this core group of experts will allow for an easily accesible resouce for junior and senior faculty managing a diverse range of datasets. These data experts are highly trained, but sometimes difficult to connect with through our current UCSF research structure. Professional development and support of this uniquely qualified group is critical!

This is a great idea, for both investigators and data management staff.

I recommend that you consider including staff biostatisticians in your survey. It would be very helpful to identify those individuals as well. A separate community could be set up or integrated into the one you propose for data managers. Overall, a great idea.

Consultation Services (CS) is very supportive of this idea. Data managers are some of the unsung heroes on research teams, and providing a way for people who do this work to get together, share tools, insights and projects, and improve both research data management quality on campus as well as morale and job satisfaction is really concordant with CS (and CTSI!) goals. There are some challenges here: we've tried in the past to foster an online community for stat analysts and been unsuccessful, but this may have been due to the collaboration tool we used. Your methods and goals are going to be different. The challenge, as always, will be to incentivize people to spend their time networking and participating and contributing to the community.

As we are implementing APeX, our department is faced with a decision whether to try to incorporate collection of patient reported outcomes into MyChart and perhaps incur extra charges from EPIC down the line to be able to access these data for quality improvement activities, or to try to implement a REDCaP solution. The problem with REDCaP is that we cannot limit access to only a single patient so we cannot use this in the clinic. There is the potential that a patient will see another patient's data, which is a HIPAA violation. If we could solve this problem, it would be a great alternative to having to depend on EPIC to capture the data needed for condition-specific registries.

Great idea. One of your challenges might be where you get the 20% time (which Analyst I) and the programmer/analyst -- although for the latter, you might actually invite someone from the data management community and have them be supported at 5%. I think starting with a newsletter, and yes, potentially a recurring monthly meet up as Joe suggests, would be great. But you might also think about extending this more traditional approach with at least a listserv, or perhaps a linkedin group, may be useful as well. Also coordinate with the Virtual Home team just to explore if there's any way the expertise mining system and any other groupware tools they're thinking of might be tested for this community.

We have an analyst I at the WHCRC who would be available. I agree listserv or wiki may be sufficient. I worry that monthly meetings may be too time consuming and a burden. Effective electronic communication may be enough. I am hopeful that the survey would be able to gauge a preference for various levels of engagement, such as, newsletter, meetings, etc.

I also like this idea. Had a few questions regarding implementation and ongoing care and feeding of the community for consideration. 1. Is the main goal for the DMU to have a pool of resources to recommend for projects that come through CS? Or would investigators access the membership directly? 2. I'm not sure how busy and how variable the workloads are for these folks. Will it be difficult to maintain and access this pool of folks due to their varying availability? Or will there need to be some way for members to easily update when they are free and when they are not? (this by the way, will be a challenge unto itself) I.e., if there is a need for a certain expertise, and there's no way to tell if that member has time available, will it be frustrating for the DMU and investigator? 3. If successful, sounds like there would be the need for a for ongoing solicitations of members. Would this become part of the DMU's purview? What happens if someone wants to join, but they aren't quite in the sweet spot of the group? Is membership exclusive? 4. Is the goal to have a pool of experts that the DMU can call upon for projects, or is there another goal to create a "virtual community" for these folks to access each other's expertise, resources, etc. I agree with Mark on past endeavors that ended up not working out that well due to various reasons. If the hope is to have members of this community engage with each other online, sharing resources, networking, collaborating etc. -- it's likely that there would be more work involved by someone who can "own" and "drive" engagement. Not that this cannot be done -- it can. It just takes someone to own it. That person would do stuff like what Joe mentioned -- organize the in person meetings among other things. In the end, I'm not trying to be a damper. On the contrary, I think the idea is great, and expectations just need to be set and clear for members, the DMU and investigators.

My current thinking is that the DMU would direct investigators to those resources. This could be handouts on common programming needs, an hour consultation with a STATA programmer or teaming faculty up with a programmer who is able to do the data management work for them. The DMU is already doing this to a limited degree. We simply hope to to expand the pool of resources by engaging the entire community of programmers across campus. We hope to gauge through the survey the availability for these short-term variable effort projects. I think the challenge right now is that we really have no idea to what degree programmers are available. Within our own research groups we know individuals who can devote time to other PIs projects but our hope is to widen this pool, especially because we are now providing greater access through DMU CS. I imagine this would work similarly to how the biostatistics consultations work by asking around until you find someone who is available and who fits the needs of the project. The membership will by no means be "exclusive" but we do hope our membership is directed to those who would benefit most -- ideally research analysts, programmers and/or statisticians, who are working within a group or independently. The direction of communication could go both ways. It's possible that PIs reach out to us because they have a gap in funding and don't want to lose her programmer entirely because they are unable to provide them with 100% support. Maybe the "Community" is as simple as a listserv. We'll have to work with Virtual Home to explore our options. The person who coordinates this community will reach out to members but active engagement by all members is not a requirement. I agree one person is needed to coordinate communication. It is to be determined whether this takes on other forms, such as, periodic meetings. Thank you for your comments/concerns. I hope I've provided more clarity :)

I think this is an important idea. I would want to ensure that a plan for ongoing sustainability of this workgroup could be built into the plan, perhaps in the form of incentive for participation in the group? Also, there will be an ongoing need to maintain the resource inventory and keep this community connected over time.

There would be two main incentives for membership 1.) being informed and 2.) accessibility to DM resources (programs, SOPs, macros, people). We should definitely speak to Virtual Home about options for maintaining the inventory of resources -- perhaps, something like a wiki.

A considerable amount of the CELDAC initiation phase was devoted to a similar survey of databases on the UCSF campus. Was CELDAC able to gauge the willingness of principal investigators to share these resources with the UCSF community?

Nice idea! It would seem that this group should take full advantage of the scheduling, feedback, and billing from consultation services. However, it will be important to also think about reimbursement. The model might be different here since these folks are often on others' grants and buying time away isn't trivial. Regardless, easy to resolve.

I think it would be great to use consultation services' tools. Most data managers are staff and this does present a problem with reimbursement. I wonder if the recharge mechanism in place could reimburse the grants that are supporting these data managers? Having said that, I'll leave the funding hurdles to the experts.

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